What can I plant under tall hemlock that's part shade and dry?

minjikimleeApril 7, 2013


We are relatively new to the house where previous owners were not big gardeners at all! We have a tall hemlock in our backyard (not sure what kind it is, I am a total newbie!) as you see in the picture and have some mulch bed underneath that I am hoping to plant something in. This picture is taken facing North, and was taken around 1pm. Depending on the time of the day, this area gets some direct sun but otherwise shade. Also in the summer it is a little more shade because of the angle where sun is coming from, etc. Also because of hemlock, this area is dry from its roots sucking everything up I assume and, even when it rains, I can see the ground not very wet. To add on top of that, we got some deer in the neighborhood, so deer resistant plants would be ideal. We are putting in some fence this year, but nothing too tall, so I still expect their visits.

What are my options here - do I have any? I assume my best bets are some shade perennials that are dry resistant? Would I be able to do any small shrubs? No? Would it help if I try trim the lower branches of hemlock to allow more lights into the area, etc?

Some people have mentioned: Solomons Seal, Hellebore , Osmanthus 'Goshiki' (I realize this is a shrub), brunnera 'jack frost', bleeding heart, etc. Would these be good choices?

Thank you for your advice in advance!

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

just happened to be on the roof .. lol ... with the camera???? ..

IMHO.. its overly mature.. and incredibly large for that small yard..

personally.. i would get rid of it.. before i landscaped the rest of the yard ...

do power lines run thru it.. or is that a camera trick???

and if thats a burning bush next to it.. that would go also ..

there is no inherent value in this old monster.. dont get confused.. and think it has any value to your wonderful new home... start fresh .. plant your own mistakes.. lol ..


ps: can you tell the difference between a hemlock and a juniper???.. does that trunk remind me of Jun. viginiana??? ... you might want to fully ID this thing ...

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 8:04AM
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Haha the pic is taken from our 2nd floor master bedroom looking out to the backyard - didn't feel like going out on the roof...

Actually our yard is a decent size - not huge at all but still decent size at least for a newbie like is. Area pictured is probably about 1/8-1/6 of our entire backyard. This is only the northwest corner of the yard. This tree is very close to the power pole, and nicely blocks the ugly of it. Also, we removed a large oak tree that was awfully close to our house in the front yard recently, and don't want to spend so much cutting it down. I would like to work around it if I can.

I am not a big fan of that bush either... but it is healthy. We cut down so many ugly looking one, believe or not, that was one of the better looking ones! I just didn't want to cut down everything, have to start all over, spend so much $ and feel overwhelmed, especially not knowing that much about gardening... Any suggestions that I can work with leaving it in?

On the id.... hmm this tree has small "pine cones" that seem to be the characteristics of hemlock. That's why I thought it was hemlock. Do Junipers have that?

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 10:26AM
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i admit my reaction is the same as Ken's Get rid of it and get something beautiful you'll enjoy every season every year:stewartia, paperbark maple; an unusual conifer or any chamycypress at all.
So little time on earth, so many beautiful trees. Dont waste your time on a plant past its freshness date.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 11:36PM
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squirejohn zone4 VT

Hemlocks aren't as bad as some other trees such as red maple. The attached photo shows hostas doing okay under three large hemlocks atlthough they may have done better if planted in Spin-Out-Bags.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 7:19AM
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Wouldn't it be a long time before any new tree to become sizable? Also if I do decide to cut the tree down, I don't think the stump grinder can get into the backyard to do the work. Would I just leave it in place? Quotes would be around $1000 or more for cutting I would think, for this area.

squirejohn - I always wanted to get hostas, but would I be sending an open invitation to the deer in the neighborhood? Your hostas look beautiful!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 9:40AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

If you want to leave it for the screen value, I would limb it up about 10 feet and get rid of the other small growth in the area. You can plant many things under it but build the deer fence first. Al

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:17AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Before doing anything, get a correct ID. It does look a lot more like a red cedar than a hemlock. They are very different trees, and given the current size, are going to develop in very different ways. If it's a red cedar, it isn't going to get much bigger, and is on the downward side of its life cycle. The wood is very rot resistant, so the stump will naturally decay quite slowly, and it is fairly common to find something constructive to do with the wood. If it's a hemlock, it's a baby. Established hemlocks grow fast, and get BIG.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 10:57AM
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This is not my picture (found on google), but this tree has little pine cones that look like this. Based on the leaves/cones, I am pretty sure this is what my tree is - and the picture ids it as hemlock. Looks like they grow up to 80ft? Holly cow! I thought it was already big as is. It is well above our 2 story house now, so I would guess around 40-50ft. The house was built in 1969 so I wouldn't be surprised if it has been here for a while. There was only one previous owner prior to us.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:29AM
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Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and the bush looks like some species of nonnative holly or boxwood. I would personally keep the tree, its native and many species of birds enjoy the cover and the seeds produced by the cones like red crossbills. I would remove the bush and add a bunch of native plants that like dry shade (lanceleaf tickseed, red columbine, sundial lupine, blackeyed susan, shrubby St.Johns wort, New Jersey Tea). You might also want to consider a waterfeature in that area as well.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 2:12PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Can you climb off the roof and get a close-up of the foliage of your tree? And a pic of the non-pine cones (if any) your tree has. ;-) Heck, to me it could even be a Leyland Cypress from this distance.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 7:58PM
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squirejohn zone4 VT

It looks like a hemlock to me and I agree about trimming it up about 10 feet. Liquid Fence works for me although others in areas with very high deer populations haven't had good results.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 4:09AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

ok.. small lesson ...

juniper and hemlock.. are conifers.. because they have cones...

pine have pine cones..

hemlock have hemlock cones..

and juniper have juniper cones.. sometimes called berries.. but still cones.. [of which you can turn vodka into gin] ...



you are in a box.. i wanted you to look outside of it.. and thats done..

the biggest problem.. and only real limitation to planting under a very old.. very large trees will be water management ... you are going to be planting under a super competitor ... and NOTHING will thrive.. if you dont water it.. for at least a year or two ... just so they get going..

after that.. then we can talk about dry tolerance...

the second factor.. will be if you can actually get a shovel in the ground .. but you will figure that out ...

google something like: hemlock forest ... or better use the latin.. and you will find out.. that most of our cute little garden trees.. the species.. as compared to named cultivars .... are really forest monsters often harvested for manufacturing ...

that thing was probably planted by the first owner.. and if, say.. the house is 30 years old.. it has the potential to be twice as big in 60 years ...

the cheap way to take care of this thing ... SINCE IT IS PLANTED IN THE UTILITY EASEMENT .. IS WHEN.. and they will show up.. when the utility shows up.. dont argue with them about it.. tell them you have no objection.. if they take it down completely ... most the time.. they will do it ... simply so they will not have to come back ... [and sometimes.. the dudes will work cheap for some pocket money .... but dont tell anyone i told you that... and they are usually very good at what they do.. as compared to bubba with the chainsaw ...]

good luck


ps: i used to climb on the roof of my ranch to take pics ... lol

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 7:39AM
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I'm all for "proper things in their proper places," but I wonder if the large trees in the background shouldn't be considered part of the "landscape design." They will certainly dominate the view, when they leaf out, and the hemlock will fit right in with them. I wouldn't dream of removing or damaging it. I would give it a little water, from time to time. I also don't see a problem with that very healthy looking shrub, which the deer seem to find unpalatable. I'd leave it be, too. You're simply not well situated for a colorful "cottage garden" style. You might try one of the regional forums for specific plant suggestions.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 10:14AM
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Ok, here is the picture of the tree close up. Hopefully this will end the hemlock vs. juniper debate! What do ya think?

Excuse my ignorance with the cones/type of trees. Newbie as I said before....

I actually had utility guy come out to take a look at this tree because I was worried that its branch is rubbing off the line, and he said it looked fine and they won't be cutting it down, etc. We simply won't be able to afford to cut it down (let alone not sure if utility will allow us to since it is so close to power line) at least this year. All our flower beds are nearly empty and they need a lot of shrubs/flowers, and I need a fence to keep the little one from running off the hill. I didn't want to abandon this space for two years in a row and wanted to get something planted before our baby #2 comes.

What are the best bets I can try planting? I don't mind watering them regularly to get them established- I've got timer! But of course I want to plant something that will tolerate the dryness.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 11:44AM
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Here's picture of the trunk in case it is helpful!

Also when I walked up to it just now, it does look like the lowest limb is about 10ft off the ground, although the end branches of them are lower and closer to the ground. Would I just trim those branches or limb up further?

This post was edited by mklmkl12842 on Wed, Apr 10, 13 at 13:23

    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 11:46AM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Yep, a hemlock. First thing I'd do is cut those branches wrapping around the trunk and see what you have.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 3:46PM
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